BLOOMFIELD< NJ - As a part of TAPinto Bloomfield's continuing coverage of the Bloomfield Board of Education candidate forum at Bloomfield Middle School, we are reporting about the event in segment. The forum itself was nearly two hours long, this allows us to report in the most reader friendly manner possible.
Bloomfield BOE Candidate Forum Series Part II: Audience Questions 4-6 and Responses
Part II in TAPinto Bloomfield’s series on the Bloomfield Home & School Council’s Board of Education Candidates Forum held October 30 at the Bloomfield Middle School.
Questions 4-6 are presented in this article. TAPinto Bloomfield will cover questions 7-9 and responses in an upcoming article.
The fourth question presented to the candidates: “What are your benchmarks or your metrics for academic excellence? The questioner also asked Emily Smith for her insights into strategic planning based on her years of experience on the board.
Smith: Smith said: ‘The way strategic planning is supposed to work; it starts with the board and also involves community involvement…What are the key areas we need to focus on. For me it’s monetary at this point…Related to academic achievement in Bloomfield I think we are doing pretty well in terms of student achievement and performance…We’ve had a pretty tumultuous time… Right now the waters are really calm…but I don’t’ know what tomorrow is going to bring. I tend to rely on the Superintendent and his team to let us know what the problem areas are…The reason I do that is that I know from my service on the board, danger becomes getting too involved with the board and micromanaging. That is not our goal. We are here to make policy. We have one employee which is the Superintendent and it is through him we make sure that student achievement is being met… I’m not going to micromanaging every single area of education…’
[Note: Related to strategic planning, it was noted that Bloomfield’s state school board representative, Glynnis Peterson would be coming to the district to work with the Board.]
Heller: ’I believe student achievement can be better communicated to the community. I think we need a Director of Communications…I am not one to rubber stamp administrative directors. I want to challenge our administration with new ideas. If I see something that … It is a two way interaction between the board and the administration and specifically our single employee, the one that we have control over. I do agree we have had a very even keel. It’s a testament to a strong board; a good superintendent who has not done too many wild crazy exploratory kind of things…particularly because we were left in a real lurch two superintendents ago… Our superintendent has surrounded himself with some key administrators to help meet the goals... Now I want to see some innovation, some new things…that is going to come from us hearing… what the community aspires to. And for us to challenge the administration for some innovations…in addition to the stability that they have brought the district…’
Salinas: ‘…I see technology as something that is very important. For students to thrive in the world of technology we must give them this technology… It is also our job as parents to keep them up to par because technology is constantly evolving… ’
Rogers: ‘…student achievement… a lot of the initiatives started when I did. Readers Writers Workshop, Cross Content Literacy, K-12 Balanced Literacy… We recently revised our curriculum guides… the initiative of upgrading smart boards to Epson Whiteboards… and also professional development for our teachers… we have more supervisors added… will be exciting to see what they bring to the table in terms of student achievement… overall constantly looking to see how we can improve our curriculum for the 21st century.
Heaney: ’I believe there is room for improvement on student achievement in several areas... and for benchmarks, there is the high stakes testing, PARCC, which personally, I have a lot of anxiety in my house when my kids are having to take that. They have trouble going to bed the night before the test. So my personal experience with PARCC so far has not been all that pleasant… I also know that New Jersey Monthly ranks Bloomfield High School at about 200 out of about 325 high schools in the state. I believe we could use that partially as a benchmark for student improvement; how we can improve the high school ranking in the state compared to how much we spend per pupil.’
The citizens asking the fifth question asked that the seated members give the audience an idea of where the district ranked in relation to standardized testing. “Where do you think we are? Have we improved or not improved?” To all candidates the question posed was: “Where do you stand on the testing that is coming in the spring?’
Heller: ‘Sadly… testing is not going away… it is required under the Every Child Succeeds Act. There is not a whole lot that we can do about it. I am not a proponent of taking instructional time from what should be fun, discovery, to do test preparation. When I see that our district maybe does not do as well as other districts on high stakes testing, I’m not that worried about it. I understand it is a benchmark… The seated board members received a communication from a member of the community that has a three year old asking us why shouldn’t they move to Montclair because they have better test scores… I think it is because you get a better educational experience here…It is well rounded. There are a ton of extracurricular opportunities…other areas of exploration in High School… I am hoping in the areas where we are not bound by high stakes testing, such as science. that we are going to get around to doing some interesting things. We have a science supervisor. I hope that we will be seeing problem based learning, portfolio assessment, project learning where students are doing collaboratively rather than testing…what can we do about our test scores?… I think the data is used by teachers…administrators…help students when there are issues that show up.’
Smith: ‘Testing is just one measurement. I have never been a proponent of one test measuring how any student is doing academically; because there is a whole component of issues going on. One test is not going to answer that question. I understand there are state regulations that we have to adhere to. I also heard that the new Governor coming in, if he’s elected, isn’t a proponent of testing and the whole thing may go away... That’s the other part of testing and state and federal mandates… Whenever the administration changes the rules change… I think it’s really important for parents to focus on their students: how they are doing in their classes on a day to day level... I’ve always gone to the schools myself… to see how my child’s needs are going to be met, because I think numbers are going to tell a whole lot for the individual student … I am going to respond to the parent who emailed us about possibly moving to Montclair because I think they are using the wrong mechanism to make that determination… One of my neighbors recently moved from to Bloomfield from Montclair and feel in love with the Middle School and staff there. Because her child was treated in a manner that far exceeded Glen Ridge. Can you believe it? Bloomfield bested Glen Ridge! Bloomfield schools are fabulous. I don’t know why no one believes that but it’s true.’
Rogers: ‘I’m on board with my fellow board members… Not a fan of standardized testing, have never been…I do have a son that was classified. Testing was very difficult for him. So he had to work hard to get around that to get into college but he is certainly a very bright kid. One of the things about Bloomfield that I cherish is its diversity. That is a different type of education. That prepares you for the world that opens up different cultures and ideas. My own family is an interracial family… My husband is from New Orleans and we go to the south. He’s African American. I’m Greek American…when I look at standardized testing it’s so far from the important things I feel…’
Salinas: ‘PARCC testing. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers… For me as a parent; no I don’t like the testing in the school system. Is it mandatory for children to take it? Yes it is. So I had to prepare my children…One of my children has an IEP. To introduce this test to my child was very difficult…When you deal with a child that takes an hour to do one sheet of homework it is a domino on the whole family… with this testing everyone in my family was affected… I see that with PARCC testing if it narrows down the subjects that the children are having trouble with, then the teacher can work with the child in that specific area. So with the PARCC testing, yes if it will help narrow down areas to help the child. Rigorous testing that the children have to take at a young age I don’t think it is necessary.’
Heaney: ’As I mentioned before we are not a big fan of PARCC in my house… As Jessica said one kid could shut down the whole house based on what’s going on with testing. As Mr. Heller said it is an operational reality … and therefore should be one of the metrics we go by until things change with new government or new policy. We should learn to live with it. However, I know families in town that base their summer plans around their kids test scores; whether they should get them a tutor or go to summer school or just go spend time at the beach. Personally I prefer to spend time at the beach…. I prefer a learning environment where kids are doing things fun. Kids seem to learn a lot more when they are having fun. When they are taking a test they are not really having fun… and it takes away from time in the classroom that they could be using in discovery… I will accept what is given to us by the state… personally I am not a big fan of PARCC.’
“How do you represent yourself? Do you represent the school system or the community? What are you going to do to represent us as parents? [Note: The citizen asking the question expressed concern with the minimal number of attendees at board meetings and the forum]
Rogers: ‘My answer is both. We represent the community, simultaneously representing the community. As Emily mentioned before, our role is not to micromanage. We are an approval board. We put policies in place... It gets confusing. We advise on the big decisions but we don’t make them… My answer is both. I don’t think you can divide the two. To me your school system is representative of our community. A strong system is what helps in so far as people coming into your community... It is interconnected. They are one and the same to me’.
Smith: ‘The school board and the community are one and the same. It is not an adversarial role. To your point…I have a completely different take on the lack of attendance at board meetings, having been through a number of them that were quite contentious. People not showing up at board meetings doesn’t mean to me they are not interested. It means to me they are satisfied, they are happy, there’s no burning issue driving them to come to the meetings.…There are other ways to communicate with board members and the superintendent, district staff, and principals and teachers. And that’s through emails and one on one conversations at schools… I think you are misreading… the lack of attendance at board meetings. I don’t think its disinterest, its satisfaction… We are the district representatives of the community... We are integral. We are not opposing forces.’
Heller: ‘As a board member I represent the 64 - 6500 children in the district. I need to do what is best for them… What I do as a board member, in their interest, is take advice from the administration…so we make the best decisions in the interests of our children…I take counsel from members of the community who tell me about things they have experienced as parents…or things they have heard at the water cooler… and take that under advisement and keep that in the back of my mind when we are having substantive conversations. My elected role is to represent the 64 -6500 children in our district as best as I can… so they can succeed in our schools
Salinas: ‘For me, my goal is to represent the children. I am here for their achievement and I am also here for their success.’
Heaney: ‘It would tickle me pink to have more people come out to these meetings and to have more people involved from the community. The real community is the children of the district. They are out future. Granted, it takes a village. There is a large part of Bloomfield that are taxpayers that do not have children. They are also part of the community. The children are where it starts and I would represent the children first as my foremost community of the town of Bloomfield.’
Look for ‘BOE Candidate Forum Series Part III: Audience Questions 7-9 coming soon on your local news sourceTAPinto Bloomfield